Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Three by Clyde Robert Bulla: Sword in Tree, Three Dollar Mule, Secret Valley

67. The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla. Illustrated by Paul Casale (buy)

Rating: (5/5)

1956; 2000, HarperTrophy, 103 pgs

Ages: (7+)

"In the days of King Arthur there stood a mighty oak tree within the walls of a castle. Peace reigned in the castle until the fearsome night when Lionel, long lost brother of Lord Weldon, returned to cause trouble and unhappiness.

It was then that Shan, the son of Lord Weldon, took on the duties of a knight and hid the sword in the hollow of the giant oak. The days that followed were filled with adventures that tried the courage of the young boy.

Shan was surprised by bearded robbers in the woods. He met noble knights in plumed helmets, and eventually he even made a trip to high-towered Camelot. His story is filled with the pageantry and color of England in King Arthur's time. It creates a vivid picture of the Knights of the Round Table and the wisdom of King Arthur himself."

Purchased a new copy from an online homeschool retailer.

Clyde Robert Bulla was one of the best authors of books aimed at the beginning reader; chapter books that range within the second grade level.  This book is listed as 2.2.  A rich, detailed historical story of a Lord whose knight brother kills/scares off the family so he can take over the property and become Lord of the estate himself.  The plot contains several crisis and resolutions before the initial one is solved, making for a compelling, exciting story all of which is written with a limited vocabulary.  Not many authors can accomplish this with the early chapter book but this was Bulla's element and you'll find nothing better at this reading level.  I always thoroughly enjoy this story, and it has actually been quite a number of years since I last read it that it came quite fresh to me this time.  Paul Casale's illustrations cannot fail to be mentioned; lovely, detailed, shaded pencil (perhaps charcoal) sketches.  A classic that deserves to be kept in print for each generation.

*****


69. Three Dollar Mule by Clyde Robert Bulla. Illustrated by Paul Lantz (buy) Out of Print

Rating: (4/5)

1960; 1994, Troll, 94 pgs

Ages: (7+)

"A boy finds himself the owner of a mule that likes children but is very hostile to adults. To the parents' dismay and the boy's delight, all attempts to sell the animal fail."

Purchased a secondhand copy from a thrift store.

A simple, gentle contemporary story of a boy who loves animals, especially horses.  Don will be twelve on his next birthday and is hoping he will receive the thoroughbred horse from the ranch next to his own he is in love with.  But one day he rescues a mule from being whipped and after bringing it home its antics cause the father to make Don prove the mule's use, or perhaps he isn't old enough to care for a horse.  A tender story as Don realises the mule has probably been abused by men in the past and puts the mule's well being before his own wants and desires.  An emotional story with plotting and much insight, especially when considered the low reading level the book is written for; something Bulla excels at.  The Lantz illustrations are detailed and realistic.

*****


71. The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla. Pictures by Grace Paull (buy)  Kindle only

Rating: (4/5)

1949; Scholastic, 72 pgs
Current Edition: HarperCollins

Ages: (7+)

"Join Frank, Ellen, and the whole Davis family on their adventure west during the Gold Rush of 1849. This exciting chronicle has the same appeal as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books."

Purchased a vintage copy from a thrift store.

Another well-written, easy-to-read, low vocabulary chapter book by the excellent storyteller Clyde Robert Bulla.  This book takes us back to the California Gold Rush and a family who travels from the Missouri River to California to become rich.  The mom wants a warm cozy home with real glass windows, the daughter wants a garden with good soil where she can grow flowers around the edge and food in the middle, the son wants fields where he can raise sheep and the father wants to find gold to buy all this for his family.  There is the hard journey across country, a frightening scare with Indians which turns out to be a friendly gesture at trading, the continued presence of meeting and eating with the natives and finally the hard living in tent city as the father and son discover panning for gold is not the windfall they had expected it to be.  But an old man, Father John, gives them directions to Secret Valley where he tells them they will find what they are looking for.  When they reach this fertile garden of Eden they find no gold but realize it does have everything they have been searching for.  A rewarding story offering the difference between the greed for gold and finding the things you want are sometimes much more simple and closer to hand.  As per the time period the illustrations are monochrome and done in sepia tones to match the frontier atmosphere and are lovely realistic drawings.

Monday, February 17, 2014

66. The Trial of Dr. Kate by Michael E Glasscock III

The Trial of Dr. Kate by  Michael E Glasscock III (buy)
Round Rock (Book 2)

Rating: (3.5/5)

Oct 8, 2013 , Greenleaf Book Group, 336 pgs

Ages: (18+)

"In the summer of 1952, Lillian Johnson was found dead in her home, slumped in the wheelchair that had become her cage due to multiple sclerosis. An overdose of barbiturate had triggered a heart attack, but the scene was not quite right. It looked as though someone other than Lillian herself had injected the fatal dose.

Dr. Kate Marlow, Lillian’s physician and best friend, now sits in the Round Rock city jail. The only country doctor for miles, Kate cannot remember her whereabouts at the time of Lillian’s death⎯and the small Tennessee town buzzes with judgment.

As Dr. Kate’s trial approaches, another woman is determined to uncover the truth about the night of Lillian’s death. Memphis reporter Shenandoah Coleman grew up in Round Rock on the wrong side of the tracks, but unlike the rest of her unsavory clan, escaped her destiny. Now, back in the town she grew up in, she’ll have to turn every stone to keep Kate from a guilty verdict.

The Trial of Dr. Kate is the second novel in a four-part series from Michael E. Glasscock III that explores the intricate social cloth of Round Rock, Tennessee. Though each story stands alone, readers who enjoyed Glasscock’s first Round Rock tale, Little Joe, will delight in the cameo appearances in this one. "

Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.

This book is a sequel to "Little Joe" but not a direct sequel; it is set in the same town about ten years later.  A few of the characters from "Joe" either make cameo appearances or are mentioned and supposedly Kate is mentioned briefly in "Joe", though I don't recall the occasion.  I don't think it would matter which of these you read first as they are companion books rather than true sequels, though chronologically this also comes second.  I enjoyed "Little Joe" much more than "Dr. Kate" but I still found this a light, entertaining read with characters I loved.  The 1950s segregated Tennessee southern fiction story involving a murder mystery was a mixture of genres I adore to read so I fell right into the feel of the book.  I fell in love with Round Rock in book 1 and enjoyed the visiting the familiar landmarks, even if the characters were different.  There are two mysteries going on actually, one of course, is the trial, who killed Lillian? but secondly Shenandoah, the main character of this volume is being harassed by a Ford truck while on the roads.  Who is trying to kill her?  I found the answer to the truck mystery rapped up too matter of fact in an unbelievable way, but then was also disappointed because the end of the entire book ended up too realistically for me.  I'm a sucker for books that don't have happy endings; but I'll say the outcome of this one did surprise me.  Overall, a good book, I enjoyed it.  Not up to par with Little Joe, but I see how the events of these first two books will provide a background for the next book which will be about one of the Coleman's, Jamie, Kate's dad. I'm really looking forward to the Coleman book!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

63. Ballet Shoes For Anna by Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes For Anna by Noel Streatfeild. Illustrated by Mary Dinsdale (buy)

Rating: (3.5/5)

1972, Lions, 160 pgs
Oct 25, 2010, Harpercollins, 240 pgs

Ages: (8+)

"For Anna, everything takes second place to her burning desire to dance. Even the earthquake that destroyed her Turkish home has not made her think differently, only now she's stuck in a prim suburban household with an uncle who "doesn't approve" of dancing. What can Anna do? Not only is there no one to give her lessons, but there's no money for them either, and, anyway, dancing's forbidden. Will she ever become the ballerina she longs to be? "

Purchased a secondhand copy at a thrift store.
Received a review copy from HarperCollins Canada.

Melodrama!  Oh, the poor, poor orphans!  This isn't quite up to par with Streatfeild's best writing but is still a decent, if over dramatic, tale of orphans who overcome tragedy.  Having lived a gypsy-type life with their Polish mother and British father, who ran away from his stiff upper-lip family to pursue a career as a painter, three children are devastated when all their living European relatives are killed in an earthquake in Turkey.  Rescued by a British Lord, they are taken to live with the father's brother.  The Uncle is a pompous bore, who hates children and only tolerates them for the sake of appearances, The Aunt is kind but she is terrified as a mouse of her husband.  Of course, life in England is miserable for them, especially since the girl had been about to go off for serious ballet lessons when the tragedy struck, her Polish grandfather, a famous Ballet instructor, having taught her all he knew. The Uncle thinks any kind of dance is the work of the devil and forbids them to even mention it again.  The children find ways around this and persevere making sure Anna gets some sort of lessons locally, but the boys have trouble raising money and Gus is prone to the shenanigans of The Gang.  Written as a tragedy, the children's lives become more and more miserable, though they manage to find happiness in the fact that they at least have each other, until at last the worst may happen then ta dah ... the orphans are rescued again.  I grew up on Streatfield and love her books, and enjoyed reading this one again.  Though certainly not one of her best, a fun lark for those who like orphan stories.

I actually read from two copies of this book as I have two editions I really like and don't want to give up either.  First is the HarperCollins "Essential Modern Classics" edition, books from this line start with a short essay from another children's author on "Why You'll Love This Book".  This essay is an introduction written by Hilary McKay.  Then these books always end with some sort of appropriate back matter relating to the book.  As in my previous reviewed "White Boots" from the same line, the Streatfield books end with a note from her nephew, William Streatfield who reminisces about his aunt and something pertaining to either the writing of or the theme of the book in hand.  This new editions is, unfortunately, not illustrated.  This is why I also kept on hand my battered little Lions paperback (only 50p) so I could read the story and enjoy the illustrations at the same time, though Mary Dinsdale produces some rather scribbled sketches.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge - FINISHED

Feb 10 - Officially finished but I am going to continue through the year working my way through the ranks.



I've joined another challenge with a very similar name that had me make a list of ten books from my tbr that I intend to read this year so I'm going to combine that one with this one and go with the second level here and make it up to 20 books from the tbr.  I really want to read books I already own this year.  Basic rules here.  No books published in 2014.  I'm also self-imposing a no books published in 2013 rule also. For more information and to sign up go here.

My master list of books follows and will be updated with links in real time: 

wrap up post on 20th of month.

Jan.1-Dec. 31 (2014) Goal:  20 books
11-20 - A Friendly Hug
1. Chi's Sweet Home, Vol. 3 by Konami Kanata
2. Junior Science Book of Pond Life by Alexander L. Crosby
3. Worms by Lois & Louis Darling
4. Octopus Lives in the Ocean by William M. & Peggy Stephens
5. Matthew and the Midnight Firefighter by Allen Morgan
6. The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
7. Dog-Gone Hollywood by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
8. Horrible Harry in Room 2B by Suzy Kline
9. Flower Fairies of the Garden by Cicely Mary Barker
10. Tommy O'Toole and the Forest Fire by Anna D. Cordts
11. Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole by Jane Yolen
12. Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble by Cynthia Rylant
13. Harley by Star Livingstone. Illustrated by Molly Bang
14. Chi's Sweet Home, Vol. 4 by Konami Kanata
15. Chi's Sweet Home, Vol. 5 by Konami Kanata
16. Chi's Sweet Home, Vol. 6 by Konami Kanata
17. Pokemon Jr. Chapter Book: Snorllax Takes A Stand by Sarah E. Heller
18. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers by Mary Roach
19. Pecos Bill Catches A Hidebehind by Wyatt Blassingame
20. The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
FINISHED

21-30 - First Kiss
21. Icebergs and Glaciers by Seymour Simon
22. Ballet Shoes For Anna by Noel Streatfeild
23. Justice League International (New 52) Vol. 1: The Signal Masters by Dan Jurgens
24. The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla
25. Three Dollar Mule by Clyde Robert Bulla
26. The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla
27. Justice League Dark (New 52), Vol. 1: Into the Dark by Peter Milligan
28. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Mutant Mosquitoes From Mercury by Dav Pilkey
29. Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds by David A. Adler
30. Cam Jansen and the Mystery of Flight 54 by David A. Adler
FINISHED

31-40 - Sweet Summer Fling
31. Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House by David A. Adler
32. Chi's Sweet Home Volume 7 by Konami Kanata
33. Chi's Sweet Home Volume 8 by Konami Kanata
34. Chi's Sweet Home Volume 9 by Konami Kanata
35. Chi's Sweet Home Volume 10 by Konami Kanata
36. Beans on the Roof by Betsy Byars
37. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
38. Way to Inner Peace by Fuller Sheen
39. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo
40. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwartzenegger
FINISHED

41-50 - Could this be love?
41. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Uranium Unicorns from Uranus by Dav Pilkey
42. Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia Highsmith
43. The Running Man by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King
44. Batgirl (New 52), Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone
45. Sand Land by Akira Toriyama
46. Wonder Woman (New 52), Vol. 2: Guts by Brian Azzarello
47. Nightwing (New 52), Vol. 1: Traps and Trapezes by Kyle Higgins
48. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
49. Red Hood and the Outlaws, Vol. 1: Redemption by Scott Lobdell
50. The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø
FINISHED

50+ - Married With Children
51. DC Universe Presents, Vol. 1: Deadman/Challengers of the Unknown by Paul Jenkins
52. The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
53. Smasher by Dick King-Smith
54. Lucille by Arnold Lobel
55. The Hollow Tree by Janet Lunn
56. Goofballs #1: The Crazy Case of Missing Thunder by Tony Abbott
57. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
58. Gold Without Alloy: A Brief Account of the Life of Saint Mary Mazzarello by Paul Aronica
59. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
60. Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
61. St. Vincent De Paul... The Man Who Said "Yes" by Boniface Hanley, OFM
62. Arthur's Halloween Costume by Lillian Hoban
63. Pray the Rosary: for Rosary Novenas, Family Rosary, Private Recitation, Five First Saturdays by Rev. J.M. Lelen
64. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
65. The Boxcar Children #9: Mountain Top Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
66. The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
67. Forty-Two Tales Including the Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe



2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - FINISHED

Feb 10: Officially finished but I'm going to continue on and work my way up through the ranks!


I used to read a ton of historical fiction and this blog can testify to that but as the years have gone by I've read less and less, though I do still dip my toe in but waaay less often than I thought.  I was going to join the ten books level but I just checked how many books I tagged hf in 2013 and I only came up with 11!  Jeez!  So I better go with the 5 book level and hope I can level up from there.  I do know why I read so little hf this year though; it is because I put a self-imposed ban on WWII and Civil War books for the year as I was reading so many of them (not because they are my favourite time period, but just because I naturally gravitate to books taking place during those eras) that I was fed up with reading them even though I enjoy them.  Makes no sense but there you go!  My favourite historical time periods are: Victorian Era (approx. 1840-1900), Chinese Cultural Revolution, China's Communist takeover and life before and during those early years, post WWI to pre WWII Western history (ie Canada, England, US) and the Russian Revolution along with the years just before and after.  Oh, I also like reading about pioneer/frontier life in Canada/US (1800s+).  I have an aversion to French history and the entire 18th century.


Post reviews here.

Jan.1-Dec. 31 (2014) Goal:  5 books
Victorian reader - 5 books
1. Vinland Saga: Book One by Makoto Yukimura
2.  Little Joe by Michael E. Glasscock III
3. Vinland Saga Book Two by Makoto Yukimura
4. The Kept by James Scott
5. The Courage of Sarah Nobel by Alice Dalgliesh
FINISHED!

Renaissance Reader - 10 books
6. The Trial of Dr. Kate by Michael E Glasscock III
7. The Sword in the Tree by Clyde Robert Bulla
8. The Secret Valley by Clyde Robert Bulla
9. Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children 2: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
10. Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story by Freddie Owens

Medieval - 15 books
11. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
12. Paradise by Toni Morrison
13. Red Dragon - White Dragon by Gary Dolman
14. The Tweedles Go Electric by Monica Kulling
15. The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights by Michael Uslan

Ancient History - 25 books
16. Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier
17. Vinland Saga 3 by Makoto Yukimura
18. The Scarlet Letter: Graphic Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne  by P. Craig Russell
19. Winter of Peril : The Newfoundland Diary of Sophie Loveridge, Mairie's Cove, New-Found-Land, 1721 by Jan Andrews
20. Always Emily by Michaela MacColl
21. The Hollow Tree by Janet Lunn
22. Dear Canada: A Country of Our Own: The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn, Ottawa, Province of Canada, 1800 by Karleen Bradford
23. Vinland Saga  4 by Makoto Yukimura
24. Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
25. Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1948 by Carol Matas

Prehistoric - 50+ books
26. The Eighth Circle of Hell by Gary Dolman
27. Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
28. Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
29. Dear Canada: A Trail of Broken Dreams: The Gold Rush Diary of Harriet Palmer, Overland to the Cariboo, 1862 by Barbara Haworth-Attard
30. Vinland Saga, 5 by Makoto Yukimura
31. Tales of the Talented Tenth: Bass Reeves by Joel Christian Gill
32. Death at Chinatown by Frances McNamara
33. All Fall Down: The Landslide Diary of Abby Roberts, Frank, Alberta District, 1902 by Jean Little
34. The Widow Smalls and Other Stories by Jamie Lisa Forbes
35. Clockwork Game: The Illustrious Career of A Chess-Playing Automaton by Jane Irwin
36. The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
37. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner
38. Dear Canada: An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-Ling, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1922 by Gillian Chan
39. Dear Canada: A Sea of Sorrows: The Typhus Epidemic Diary of Johanna Leary, 1847 by Norah McClintock




59. The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh. Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (buy)

Rating: (3/5)

1954, 2000: Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 55 pgs

Ages: (7+) A

"In 1707, young Sarah Noble and her father traveled through the wilderness to build a new home for their family. "Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble," her mother had said, but Sarah found that it was not always easy to feel brave inside. The dark woods were full of animals and Indians, too, and Sarah was only eight! 
The true story of Sarah's journey is inspiring. And as she cares for her father and befriends her Indian neighbors, she learns that to be afraid and to be brave is the greatest courage of all."

Purchased a new copy from a homeschool retailer.



This is probably my 4th time reading this book.  It doesn't warrant that many readings but I read it as a kid, read it aloud to my kids and just re-read it now since I haven't reviewed it here yet.  A Newbery Honor Award Winner, ...Sarah Noble is a well-written frontier story set in Connecticut.  It's a nice story based on a true family, that very little detail exists about and has become more legendary than historical fact.  Father and daughter travel across state to settle on new land and this easy to read beginning chapter book details their frontier experiences and the friendly relations with the nearby "Indian" village. A story of Christian people, not like a children's book would be written today at all, with the main theme of having courage even when you are scared.  Nothing happens in the story though.  It's been ages since my last read of this and for some reason I thought a danger was coming but, nope, no scares, just day-to-day wilderness, frontier life; family separates, reunites, the end.  Modern day children would probably find this boring if read by themselves.  Audio or someone with a good storyteller's voice (my children enjoyed mine:-) could read aloud to bring more life to it for them.  

Too good not to mention are Weisgard's illustrations; typical of the time they are monochromatic done in sepia and black and suit the time period and atmosphere well.  I don't like this modern cover at all.  This is the old cover illustration by Weisgard of the book I used to have. 
            

Sunday, February 9, 2014

57. Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer

Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer (buy)
Seven, the series

Rating: (5/5)

Oct 10 2012, Orca Books, 256 pgs

Ages: (10+)

"Seventeen-year-old Webb's abusive stepfather has made it impossible for him to live at home, so Webb survives on the streets of Toronto by busking with his guitar and working as a dishwasher. When Webb's grandfather dies, his will stipulates that his grandsons fulfill specific requests. Webb's task takes him to the Canol Trail in Canada's Far North, where he finds out that there are much scarier things than the cold and the occasional grizzly bear. With a Native guide, two German tourists and his guitar for company, Webb is forced to confront terrible events in his grandfather's past and somehow deal with the pain and confusion of his own life. "

Borrowed a copy from the local library.



It has been a very long time since I read this author.  I read, and enjoyed, a handful of his books way back at the beginning of his career when I lived in Alberta and he was a local author of decidedly children's Christian fiction.  He's come a long way since then, entered mainstream publishing, yet from the book I still see, though unobtrusive, a Christian message.  Just when I thought Jump Cut was the best of this series, I read this one and it's just as good ... better? hard to say.  Some of the books give the grandfather's will and handing out of the quest only a brief set up at the beginning, some reference the grandfather tie-in frequently, others barely at all.  Brouwer's book is quite different from all the others (I only have one left to read).  He heavily concentrates on the Grandfather, the reading of the will, and the actual circumstances regarding the set up of his quest.  This told through a past and present narrative as chapters switch from "Then" to "Now".  This was a brilliant way of telling the story and gives the most insight into the Grandfather as a person, equalled only by "Lost Cause".  Set in the Northwest Territories Webb's quest involves following the Canol trail with a guide to retrieve something his grandfather left behind during his days as a pilot just after the end of WWII.  This is a wilderness survival story, as well as a teen's survival on the streets of Toronto.  This is probably the most intense of the books in the series as it deals realistically with child abuse from a stepfather.  I found the ex-military stepfather, a bit of a stereotype but nonetheless Brouwer brought a realistic portrayal to the table.  An excellent entry in the series!  One more book to go, by my favourite author represented in the series, then we shall see which I really thought was the best ... Will it be Ted Staunton's, Sigmund Brouwer's or Shane Peacock's?

Friday, February 7, 2014

37. The Kept by James Scott

The Kept by James Scott (buy)

Rating: (5/5)

Jan 7 2014, Harper, 368 pgs

Ages: (18+)

"In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children. Her midwife's salary is tucked into the toes of her boots, and her pack is full of gifts for her family. But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house and a smokeless chimney, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.

Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town, defined by the violence both of its landscape and of its inhabitants. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world."

Received an egalley from the publisher through Edelweiss.

This book had me transfixed from beginning to end.  I found it a slow read but I literally had to force myself to put it down each night and did actually fall asleep reading as it just got too darn late.  Set in 1897, up-state New York, an amazing opening scene grabbed me and had me hooked that I knew right away this was going to be my kind of book.  What starts off as a tale of vengeance ends up one of redemption.  Caleb, a 12 year old boy, is always the main character and he pulled my heart strings from the get go.  I have a 13 year old son and was able to compare and contrast the difference in the times but still be aware of the innate mindset of twelve years of age.  Very shortly after the book starts it is often hard to remember that Caleb is only 12 and I often started thinking of him as 16 or so; the author seems to be allowing the reader to do so by only very infrequently bringing back a mention of his real age which throws the reader for a loop reminding themselves of this and what this boy is being asked to do and how he is coping with the situation.  Much further on in the book, things change and we are constantly reminded of his age and there is purpose to this as well.  Elspeth, the mother, is an unlikable character but one grows to understand her, wonder at a woman's lot in this era where no psychiatric help was available, where it was the woman's fault if no children were born, and if a baby girl came first she was told to have a boy next time.  Elpseth is responsible for her own actions though and by tale's end redemption is all she can, and does, ask for.  I loved this book.  It was atmospheric, dark, moody, and well-written.  However, as soon as I finished the book I knew it would get mixed reviews and even some bad reviews.  Some readers can't stand dark stories that don't have happy endings.  Personally, I think if a soul finds redemption, that *is* a good ending.  If you want happily ever after, this is not the book for you!  If you want profound beautiful writing that tells a tale about life's sorrows and redemption you'll like this book.  James Scott is a name I will be looking for in the future.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

52. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (buy)

Rating: (4/5)

2003, W.W. Norton, 294 pgs +Bibliography & end matter

Ages: (18+) (YA crossover)

"Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them."

Purchased a new copy from an online retailer.

This is one of those books that I've wanted to read for a long time and had high expectations.  I am well-read on the subject matter, it's one of my special interests, however I come to this topic with a Catholic worldview and that is where my review will differ from the average one.  First off, when one has such high expectations for a book so highly lauded it's not surprising I was a bit let down.  Mostly on the humour side.  I have a dry sense of humour, not easily offended but I didn't find this "uproariously funny" like Publisher's Weekly did.  Some of the humour made me chuckle but a lot of it fell flat, was full of puns (uck) and just not my type.  I wouldn't read any of her other books unless the subject matter fascinated me and so far none of the others do.  Anyway,  humour aside, I found the book entirely captivating.  Starting out historically I was in familiar territory and then topics became more modern describing their history up to expected new future advances.  I enjoyed most the history; that is where my own special interests lie especially during the Victorian period.  Next, I'm interested in forensics and really enjoyed the chapters on the body farm, airplane crashes and crash test specimens.  At chapter 8 I became uncomfortable with the topic of brain death and organ donation because the author allowed her own moral opinion to flavour the discussion, something she hadn't done up to this point.  The Catholic Church excepts brain death, as do I, however my convictions do not hold with taking organs from a breathing body that needs to be anaesthetised.  But Roach uses this chapter to express her firm opinion otherwise and in her punny way calls the 54% of us (her statistic) who would not donate organs from a supposedly "brain dead" loved one, "heartless".  It's preferable not to insult your reader; otherwise she was very respectful towards death, dignity and religion throughout.  I found the chapter on the future ways of disposing of remains quite interesting.  She presents two ways that may become popular: composting (which would not be accepted by my religion) and tissue reduction (which would be acceptable with the dehydration option).  If this last process, which results in remains similar to cremations, is cheaper and involves less funerary pomp then I'm quite interested in it.  An honourable and respectful funeral mass and internment is needed for the deceased (according to my religion) but fancy, expensive, funerary finery is nothing but a burden on the living.  Certainly an interesting book but I think I'm at the point now where I need to look at the texts she used for research and read those types of books myself now, since this is a subject I'm actually interested in scholarly.